I’ve always been a fan of Greg James and his light-hearted morning show on Radio 1 and since lockdown began, I’ve found the radio show even more comforting, especially now that the comedy and silliness has ramped up. Just the other day, Greg was talking about a quote he gave for a press release about Radio 1’s Big Weekend – he said when he gets asked for a quote, he’ll always try and add something funny, knowing it would likely be deleted but with the intention of making the recipient laugh. This time round, his quote was left in, it read, “And if it all goes wrong, we can just blame the pandemic and say that at least we tried.” It certainly tickled me, and to hear that Greg James had included it just to make the person reviewing it laugh, made me realised how important humour and laughter is right now.
Laughter as a healer
The pandemic has had a profound effect on our lives, including our mental health. Whether we’ve been directly affected by the virus or not, the uncertainty and being away from our loved ones has been difficult to process. But when our friends have sent us a funny meme or we read or listen to a funny story and laugh, we almost forget about what’s going on – even if it’s just for a few minutes. That’s why you’ll often see news broadcasts end on a light-hearted story after giving the main updates, and we do the same with our daily Firewire newsletter. You want to end on a light-hearted note, so that recipients don’t dwell too much on the potentially doom and gloom stories.
Comedy is also a comforter for many of us because we feel that we can connect with the person that made us laugh. I’ve never met Greg James, but I feel like I know him because I listen to – and am amused by – him and his stories every day, just like with my friends on WhatsApp. Comedy podcasts, like My Dad Wrote a Porno, No Such Thing As A Fish and Help I Sexted My Boss, are formatted in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the pub, chatting with your mates. Of course, not everyone has the same sense of humour but when we do find what makes us laugh, we search for similar material.
Being the funny one
From the comedian’s perspective, making jokes and wanting to make people laugh is part of their personality. However, being the class clown is one thing, but being funny and making jokes as a brand or company is something else altogether. It can appear risky, sometimes daunting, but it can done right.
Innocent Smoothies, for example, is known for its Twitter feed, where almost every campaign is centred around being funny – from their debates on whether new smoothie is blue or green (it’s definitely green by the way), to commentating on TV shows like the Great British Bake-Off, and even the way they handled their mini crisis around the misinformation of ‘conker milk’ was executed in an overtly apologetic but amusing manner. Humour has become part of their brand identity and they’ve used it to personify their brand and give it an authentic voice, which in turn receives a lot of engagement from their audience. It’s clever because it is likely that when their followers see a new Innocent smoothie on the shelves, they’ll remember something funny they said about it and likely purchase it. The power of endorphins, aye?
Using comedy as a tool to evoke an action is also used to raise awareness of more serious causes. The Comic Relief charity and, more aptly, Doncaster Council’s explanation of the government’s ‘Stay Alert’ announcement, both used light-hearted content to spread awareness of a serious message. People tend to remember something if they find it funny, and will often share it with their peers, thus spreading the message further. In these types of instances, especially when coming from a brand, it’s important to find the balance as there can be a fine line between being funny and being offensive. Think of it as laughing with someone, not at them, and focus on the wider story rather than pinpointing a specific person or aspect.
Reading the room
Getting humour right in your communications, whether it’s internal or external, requires a careful balance. ‘Reading the room’ could be a room of 200 people in a highly targeted campaign or a room of potentially thousands or millions, depending on your platform and audience. Within that ‘room’, you might have individuals with different opinions and different senses of humour, so it’s best to accept early doors that you’re not going to please every single person. Take note of the situation and the surroundings around you and avoid stepping over the line if your message or take on the situation could cause offense.
Sometimes funny messaging doesn’t quite sit as well when it’s text only, so it can help to include graphics and images too. At other times, funny images or animations can be powerful on their own. One of my favourite YouTube channels, Kurzgesagt, provides explanations to science’s most difficult questions through beautifully animated illustrations – for people who respond to visuals, like me, the graphics and bright colours really help to understand the message and remember what they’re saying!
Lockdown has shifted expectations immensely and we’ve all had to adapt to the new way of working and living, whether it’s working from home, dealing with the supermarket queues or spending our Saturday nights Zooming our friends. It has been a strange and scary time, and definitely one that we won’t forget, but thanks to comedy and the people that continue to produce funny content every day, it’s been easier to laugh and see a bright side.